Teachers Pay Teachers?

 

Writing effective lesson plans is time consuming. Making learning at the high school level fun and engaging for students requires even more. This year I’ve been focusing on student engagement and getting my students more involved in both the English and History courses that I teach.

It’s taken more time than usual, but my results have been phenomenal. Overall, the students this year have bought into their education more so than those of the past. They are motivated to learn when I get out of the lecture rut and put them in charge of discovering ideas on their own.

During the last two weeks my English students have completed reading projects and a Socratic Seminar. I was so pleased with the results of  both. Students blew away the expectations and made me proud. Going to school is so much more fun when my students are happy and looking forward to class.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about opening a shop on Teachers Pay Teachers, a site where I could sell my lesson plans and classroom activities. I’m looking for advice from other teachers out there.

Is it worth it to package and sell lessons that have been successful in my own classroom? 

I’ve had an account with Teachers Pay Teachers for a few years. At this point all I’ve ever done is buy lessons, but I have a few of my own that might be beneficial to others. Any feedback is welcome and will be appreciated.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Teaching: Are We Releasing Too Soon?

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“Why are these scores so low? I showed them how to do this!”

Many of us have had reflective conversations with ourselves or colleagues drenched in comments similar to the one above. It’s frustrating to go through a process step-by-step with students only to turn them loose and receive a less than desirable assignment in return.

We reason that there must be something wrong with “this class” or we justify these behaviors saying that, “this group must be lazy.” In reality, it may not be a lack of effort on the students’ end, but rather the lethargy may actually stem from the teacher’s planning.

Gone are the days where the role of the teacher was to spew information while students collected it in tidy notebooks. With the onslaught of technology, our students have been transformed from information collectors in to information seekers. Our world has shaped learning to be far more productive in a problem solving scenario than in a catch-and-release system.

I recently attended a Vertical Alignment session with my district Curriculum Director where we looked at best practices throughout our English classrooms in the district. Being a high school teacher confined to fifty minute periods has produced many obstacles in creating a balance between Reading, Writing, and Language instruction. In a perfect world, I would tackle all three areas of ELA in a single class period, but that’s just not the reality of my classroom. I feel stifled by time restraints and frustrated when I cannot see my students making the progress I anticipate to see. Based on my scores from last year’s standardized tests I have added to my curriculum, but fitting everything in before March seems an impossibility.

As a teacher passionate about my content, I’ve been wounded by my student performance these last few years. Like anyone would, I have started to blame the group of students or blame their previous teachers, but the truth is if I’m trying to point blame I should look no further than my own lesson plans.

I read the article Releasing Responsibility by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey at the PD this week. What stuck out to me the most was the idea of Gradual Release of Responsibility.

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(Photo: ASCD)

Thinking back to my college days in my cluttered dorm room I can remembering cracking open my book of Educational Psychology and studying Vygotsky’s theories of cognitive development. It is something that is so ingrained in my brain that I’ve actually forgotten all about it. I know that asking a student to work independently on something before they are ready is a recipe for disaster. I know that in order for students to work alone they must receive a focused lesson, guided instruction, and collaboration first, but when I think back to my frustrations with their performance I feel convicted because somewhere along the line I’ve skipped some steps.

As teachers we feel pressure from all directions, but nothing is worse than the pressure of time. Because of time constraints, I’ve recognized that sometimes I revert back to the old schoolhouse method of standing in front of the class, giving them notes, and then expecting them to complete an assignment or homework without any further practice. That isn’t setting them up for success.

The way to beat this slump is to narrow the content of your class. Find the standards that are pivotal for your course and focus on those and the skills necessary for mastery of those standards. When you have five things you are committed to accomplishing instead of forty you feel less pressure to move quickly allowing for a timeline that eases into the release of responsibility.

Designing lessons and units should be centered around these principles and not the curriculum maps or units of study prescribed by a textbook. (In fact, you may not even need that old textbook at all.)

At the high school level what does a lesson look like from each of these stages of the Gradual Release of Responsibility? In a focused lesson, a teacher may introduce new terms, show a video, distribute a notes page with ideas, read a story, or re-inact the setting or plot of the content being read. Guided instruction involves letting the students see your thinking processes. This means vulnerability in many cases, but students will learn most during this phase if you admit your weaknesses and provide modeling of your use of the skill they are working toward. Collaboration is giving your students a scenario or problem to work through with peers to help them gain experience and confidence in the focus area. Activities for small groups should always be things that they could not do independently. Nothing is more frustrating than to be placed in a group to do something you could have done more efficiently on your own. Design a little stretch or challenge into your collaborative assignments.

Finally, after all three stages have been mastered, then you may begin the independent stage of the instruction. This phase is absolutely necessary and should never be skipped, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t the second stage. Lesson delivery isn’t followed by independent work.

If you are anything like me you may just need a reminder that dates, timelines, and tests shouldn’t dictate your lesson plans. Learning is the goal and should be the instrument to measure your progression through content. At the high school level the middle stages of the model above are often left behind an forgotten. We complain that our students aren’t motivated and they don’t enjoy school, but designing lessons that challenge them in all stages of learning will reignite their passion for your content and their performance on various forms of assessments.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Dressing and Educating: Days 6-10

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Day 6: August 22, 2016

My first true Monday of the school year and I caught the struggle bus on the way to school. I forgot just how short a two day weekend feels. I really needed to replenish my lost sleep from last week, but I had a sick child all weekend–so that did not happen.

Adjusting to my new schedule is also exhausting me. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my students and getting back into the routine of going to work, but by midway through the day my energy level tanks. This year 4 of the 6 classes I teach are back-to-back in the morning and I eat lunch with only two periods remaining in the day. The front end of my day is hectic and it takes a lot of willpower to keep from taking a nap instead of eating lunch during my break. I’m still in adjustment mode as I align my body to this new schedule.

For my Monday attire I went for my navy and white Market and Spruce dress from Stitch Fix. I paired this dress with a draping vest and Sperrys. I also liked the way my Premier jewelry brought some much needed brightness to this outfit.

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Day 7: August 23, 2016

The theme of the day was data. From the beginning of my first class period until the end of the final bell my day consisted of students taking tests to give me data points and analyzing data from previous school years and standardized tests. Twice today I met with my data teams to interpret numbers and to make plans for moving forward. I felt like every other word out of my mouth all day was a synonym for data.

For an English and History teacher a day of data analysis was akin to a pulsating migraine. In fact, it actually caused a bit of one midway through the day. By the time my lunch period rolled around I found myself craving caffeine. I almost gave in to that desire, but kept myself busy to avoid hopping in my car and driving to the nearby Tim Hortons. I worked through my lunch period (I may have to explain a little soup spill on my data sheets), and I logged over 12,000 steps before I finally made it home.

On a more positive note, I’m beginning to recall student names and faces and some of their personalities are starting to sneak through their scared freshman facade. I shared a few laughs with some classes today and thoroughly enjoyed discussions with my honors students about how they want the class to be taught.

It was school picture day. I have no idea why I stress more over picture day as a teacher than I did back in my day as a pupil, but I do. Last night I laid out several outfits and decided on my chambray top I received from Stitch Fix and a pair of red jeggings. I’m so glad I had my gray lace Toms to get me through a day of running to every corner of my large campus. They were almost as imperative as the term “data” was to my vocabulary today.


Day 8: August 24, 2016

Pre-assessment day!

I spent a majority of my day administering pretests and evaluating those pretests. I used each class period to score the one before and spent just about three quarters of my day reading student essays.

I always find it interesting the knowledge my students bring to my course.

Today I wore LulaRoe leggings, my navy tunic from The Limited, and a pair of silver flats I bought two years ago for my sister’s wedding. It was a comfortable, yet professional look for the day.

Also, I took several photos this morning, but I had to laugh about the one above. Right as the camera took the shot another teacher popped in the room and caught me red handed. I had to explain to him what I’m doing on the blog and I’m pretty sure he left my room contemplating my sanity.


Day 9: August 25, 2016

With pre-assessments Out of the way I’m now free to begin teaching my course content. I introduced new vocabulary today, had students analyze an article in small groups, and had a chance to really observe student interaction. I loved seeing personalities come out for the first time this year as students were given permission to ask questions and to go a little deeper with ideas specific to the courses I teach.

Today, I also enjoyed visiting with some former students during their study halls. It means a lot to me when students from previous years make the time to stop by the freshman building to see me and fill me in on their lives.

Today I wore black skinny dress pants from The Limited, a blue tank top, and a cardigan I purchased this summer in England at Primark. I completed my outfit with my favorite black and white Sperrys.

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Day 10: August 26, 2016

My first casual Friday!

You have to love the days when you can dress down at work. Although I love getting all dressed up throughout the week Fridays are always a breath of fresh air as I can create outfits that are more functional for my active teaching style. Everyday I log over 10,000 steps before lunch time. I rarely sit during class periods. I use a lot of energy throughout my day. Because I’m such an active teacher I love to wake up and throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Most Friday’s I wear shirts that display my school spirit, but today I decided to go for a different look.

As you can see above I wore a Classic T from LulaRoe and my dark denim is from Charlotte Russe’s line and there I go again with my classic Sperrys boat shoe. I dressed the casual look up just a bit with a long beaded necklace and a gold bracelet from Premier.

At the end of my second week I can now say I’ve learned all my student first names, graded at least one assignment per class, and begun teaching content in both of my courses. I’m starting to get into a rhythm for the year and some of the students are beginning to open up just a little bit. I’m excited about the school year and all 170 days that lie ahead.

Thank goodness for the weekend so I can catch up on some sleep and much needed family time.

Here’s a quick recap of my outfits this week. Which is your favorite?:

The Ameri Brit Mom

Five Minute Friday: Expect

This week the topic for the Five Minute Friday link-up post is Expect. What is a link-up? Essentially a link-up is when you join other bloggers and write on a similar topic. You share your blog posts with one another and begin conversations via a host site. You can head over to Kate Motaung’s page to check out other entries from inspired bloggers. Here’s my five minutes of uninterrupted, unedited writing on this week’s topic:

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All that lies between myself and summer vacation is three days. Next Wednesday the students will leave my classroom for the final time. When I think about that moment I’m overcome because it has been a great year, but I am also excited for all that the summer holds for my family.

I’m expecting a long, fun summer full of family activities, travel, and lots of reading.

I’m expecting joy.

I’m expecting rest.

I’m expecting love.

I’m looking forward to a mini-trip to Chicago in nineteen days. Long car rides, sight seeing, and trying new foods are always full of wonderful memories. I expect that trip to be full of them.

I’m excited about spending a month in the summer back at my husband’s home in England. It’s always nice to get away and catch up with our family across the sea.

I’m also ecstatic about not having to grade essays, projects, or late work for a whole three months!

Here’s to summer 2016.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Teaching Writing: Five Things You Need to Survive

Whoever said teaching writing is dull has never been inspired by some of the writing greats like Kelly Gallagher, George Hillocks Jr, and Donalyn Miller. These three people have heavily influenced my take on the teaching of writing. My first two years of teaching I struggled to capture the interest of my students while adhering to state mandated standards, but after studying theories and ideas from these three experts I’ve revamped my program and teaching writing has become an enjoyment. Reading their works have also made me a more confident writing teacher.

Currently, my students are working on an essay entitled, Five Things You Need to Survive in Lynn’s World. This assignment is based on the novel Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis which all regular education ninth grade students are reading at my school. I did a book review of this novel last spring as I prepared the unit. Check it out!

In order for my students to get a handle on what I was asking for in this informative essay I provided them a copy of the humorous essay from the Huffington Post, 10 Essentials for Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse: A Practical Guide by John Hornor Jacobs. As a small group they read through the article and highlighted language and ideas that stood out to them.

Then, in their groups they used the model essay to develop a plan of their own. They created a T-chart in their writing notebooks emulating some of the same styles used by John Hornor Jacobs, but applying his principles to their assignment. That assignment was to write an informative essay about five things needed to survive in the world of Lynn, the protagonist of Not a Drop to Drink.

This assignment is a fun approach to informative writing sprinkled with a bit of humor. Students are working in small groups to write the essay where each student is responsible for one paragraph or item from the list of necessities for survival. Also, like the model essay students are expected to think outside of the box when choosing their items. They are not allowed to use water, fire, or shelter as an item required for survival.

GoogleDocs is the platform we are using for the assignment as it allows several students to work on the same document at the same time. They are all able to use Chromebooks to work on their individual portion of the whole and they have instant access to editing tools, their peers.

This is the first time I’ve done this assignment and so far I am pleased with the how things are going. The students are engaged because they’ve already fallen in love with the text.They are also performing their own tasks as a member of a team.

This assignment serves as an introduction to informative writing. Plans have been laid for individual informative assignments, however, working in small groups is a stepping stone to writing on their own.

I’m excited to see the final products when the editing process is complete.

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Book Worm or Social Butterfly?

I am currently enrolled in a course on teaching writing and during this course the class is reading the book,  In the Best Interest of Students by Kelly Gallagher. In his book, Kelly discusses some of the strengths and weaknesses of the current Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts.

I’m a big fan of Gallagher and in the past have read his other books, Teaching Adolescent Writers and Write Like This. He talks often about his experiences in the ninth grade English classroom and I sympathize with him on various levels about student apathy, concerns, and achievements.

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This week I was doing my reading to prepare for the course when I stumbled upon an idea which really resonated with me.

This is a quote within a quote from the book:

“In his study, ‘In the Minds of Others,’ Keith Oatley, professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, notes that recent research has found that

far from being a means to escape the social world, reading stories can actually improve your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings.” (2011, 1)

So often we hear the term “book worm” to describe someone who has developed an affinity for reading. This misnomer has carried with it a negative connotation. I’ve even heard other teachers use such negative language to describe students who consistently carry books to and from class. Readers can get a bad reputation from the rest of society. They are sometimes labeled antisocial, but the quote above points to the very opposite meaning.

One of my favorite pastimes is to sit at home near the fire place in the living room and read. I’ll even call it romantic when my husband sits beside me on the sofa and reads his own book as well. Because at the end of the day we share what we have read about. The people we have interacted with through reading. The lessons we learned from the stories we experienced. And there is nothing antisocial or negative about it.

People miss out on truly social experiences by choosing not to read. Reading provides us such unique opportunities to be a part of another life or time period that we may never otherwise experience.

I’m not saying every couple needs to be like me and my husband and bond through reading. Rather the point I am trying to make is that reading is not the negative experience that so many people have painted it to be. When I ask students why they are reluctant to read on their own I get responses like, “I would rather play games,” or, “My friends are more fun.” Although they may enjoy gaming and spending time with friends, reading can also be as much fun and engaging as both of those activities.

All of this to say, that just because someone enjoys reading does not mean that they are a book worm. It is indeed possible to read often and be a social butterfly. Reading can add authenticity to your social interactions outside of books and helps to develop the social skills needed for relating to others. By losing yourself in a good book you are setting yourself up for social success and training your mind for intellectual growth.

Citations:

Oatley, Keith. 2011. “In the Minds of Others.” Scientific American Mind.

Gallagher, Kelly. 2015. In the Best Interest of Students. Stenhouse: Maine.

5 Reasons to Read Ray Bradbury

This week I wrapped up a six week unit on Fahrenheit 451 with my ninth grade students. Leading up to this unit every year I question whether I will be able to capture the interest of my students with the story. This novel is being categorized in the Classic Science Fiction genre these days which tends not to be the kind of stories students pick to read on their own. Not because they don’t enjoy it, but because it seems intimidating to them. Throw the word “Classic” in front of any title and you’ve lost many of my regular education students.

Each year upon the completion of the book, however, I am overwhelmed by the number of students who ask about recommendations of other books by Bradbury. Somewhere in the journey of complicated themes, verbose vocabulary, and metaphorical language the students begin to fall in love.

I do not have these fears prior to reading because I don’t think the students will be able to read his books, but I think I fear that they may shut down before Bradbury has a chance to WOW them with his art. I enjoy reading the many works of Bradbury for several reasons. Below are five reasons to grab a Ray Bradbury novel, screenplay, short story, or essay and allow yourself to fall in love as well.

  1. Ray Bradbury is timeless. Although most of his works were done in the early 1950s-mid 1970s the stories are still relevant to popular culture today. Nuclear war, extraterrestrial life, and time travel are all common ideas in his writing. Today, if you flip through the channels of prime-time television or Netflix you will find an abundance of shows on similar topics. Bradbury nailed popular culture fifty years ago. Throughout the reading of Fahrenheit 451 I had to continually remind the students that the book was written in 1953 long before Bluetooth, automatic cars, and cell phones. It’s actually quite surreal how well Bradbury predicted technologies of the future.
  2. Ray Bradbury is honest. I’ve read countless articles about how Bradbury was inspired to write based on his own fears. Growing up during the height of the Cold War caused Bradbury to voice some of his own fears and observations in the major themes of his books.
  3. Ray Bradbury challenges the norms of society. Along the same lines of honesty, Bradbury looked at society through a critical lens and made predictions and assumptions about the direction it was headed. He exposed the dangers of censorship and blindly following the rules of society. He aimed at provoking individuality and questioning of the world. “She didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why.” (Fahrenheit 451)
  4. Ray Bradbury causes us to say “what if…?” As I stated above Ray Bradbury was writing during the height of the Cold War. Living in this time period caused many people to ask the question, “what if…?” of the future for mankind. Today we are faced with similar questions for our world. What if nuclear war were to break out? What if there really is water and possibility of life on Mars? What if we don’t stand up for our rights? What if the government has too much control? What if technology takes over our lives? Bradbury challenges his readers to be critical of the world around them and to dare to dream about how to solve the problems that we face in our age.
  5. Ray Bradbury uses beautiful language filled with metaphors and figurative language. One thing I love about re-reading several works of Bradbury’s each year is that every time I read his writing something new stands out to me. Most recently I loved the way that at the end of Fahrenheit 451 that Bradbury compares society to a phoenix, a mythical creature which burns itself up only to rebirth itself from the ashes. As Montag stands outside of Chicago and watches it go up in flames, Granger, his new mentor, explains that the city is like a phoenix. It may be destroyed, but it was their duty to return to the city and help it to rebuild spreading the knowledge from the books that they possessed and had become.

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photo credit: http://www.openculture.com/2014/05/ray-bradbury-on-zen-and-the-art-of-writing-1973.html